Did we really need more? Did we really need to see a graphic self-abortion, male genitals in all manner of pre/post sexual release? Did we need more conversations between title “subject” Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg in the present, Stacy Martin in flashback) and her Good Samaritan “therapist” Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård)?
After viewing Lars Von Trier’s director’s cut of Nyph()maniac, packing at least 40 more minutes of provocative button pushing, the answer is an enthusiastic “Yes!” Those already inclined to dislike the film won’t find anything new to reverse their opinion. Those who found the director’s dissection of the fantasies and failings of a life devoted to sex interesting will be pleased with the additions, if not 100 percent convinced of their necessity.
One thing remains constant, however, and that is Von Trier’s unique inquiry into the battle of the sexes, both in regards to gender and physical clash. Joe may be the mainstay, but the various men she beds and belittles are the real reflective gauge here. Take, for example, her obsession with her father. Previously, we learned little of their love, except that she thinks he hung the moon. He, while mostly silent, is still doting and attentive. When he grows sick and dies (and, as the story suggests, removes a necessary barrier against carnal experimentation for our heroine), we feel the loss, if only in limited ways.
In the new cut, there is more of the father figure (played with great empathy by an unexpected Christian Slater), and by adding these elements, we can see how the rest of Joe’s life becomes predatory and predestined. While she constantly argues that she’s not “making up” for something, Von Trier seems to negate his subject’s own sense of self. He believes, rightly or wrongly, that the standard pervert profile (a slut with daddy issues) is the cause for Joe’s downward spiral. A closer reading, however, reveals that he might just be full of shit.
We also get more explicit looks at the character’s early travails. The train tryst before offers up some hardcore results now, while the work of Stacy Martin continues to amaze. While Charlotte Gainsbourg gets all the accolade, her younger costar is the one whose truly brave. Even with a “porn double” and a prosthetic vagina, she puts herself out there in every scene, coming across as the title concept with true hunter/gatherer urgency. Similarly, her effect on the men she meets suggests an internal heat that entraps both the person and their propensities. While age definitely dims some of this aggression, the movie makes it clear that it still remains there, like a slumbering giant.
And then there is the abortion. It’s graphic. It’s gross. It’s gruesome. But it’s also a necessary part of Joe’s past, one we need to witness to understand the extremes she will go through to preserve her experiment. As the title suggests, this is a movie about the act.
Nymphomaniac glamorizes the syndrome as much as Melancholia did depression or Antichrist did grief. Yet in the original cut, it looked like Joe paid little personal price outside of the constant harangues and hate she received from the women whose men she stole (including that great scene with Uma Thurman).
As said previously, Von Trier makes it clear that Joe’s journey is about power. It’s not about pleasure or providing it. Instead, once she learns the control contained between her legs, this character decides to demystify and deconstruct it. Hollywood would have our heroine shown in the throes of passion, he face a constant reminder that the multiples of partners she is with are only providing one clear thing – pleasure. But Nymphomaniac is not about fun; it’s about fear, about physical need or want trumping common sense. Von Trier is one of the few filmmakers to treat sex addiction as just that. This isn’t some half-baked comedy where porn is just a playful substitute for some bro’s inability to commit. This filmmaker wants to understand compulsion, with Seligman doing his best within the many frames of reference he has. Some of the answers are beyond disquieting.
By the time we get to portions of Part 2 we recognize, our viewpoint has changed. The fallout we experienced before has a new, more knowing perspective. The last two hours offer up the consequences this lengthy confessional has constantly hinted at. Even those B&D scenes with Jamie Bell are given a few more facets, thanks in part to the director’s ability to add more to their meaning. It also impacts the overall effect. When bifurcated, we feel whiplashed, shocked by being forced to stop in mid import, so to speak. When viewed together, we get a more powerful experience, especially during a key moment when Joe goes back over all the symbols Seligman has used to offset her story.
It’s all still a tale that rarely deviates from what we’ve experienced before. During the initial discussion about the Church, the whole notion of suffering vs. mercy is painted in particularly harsh terms. While Jerome (Shia LaBoeuf) struggles to get Joe to care, especially once their little baby is born, she heads off to find an even more histrionic source of release. Her meet up with some incredibly well endowed African immigrants is one of the funniest sequences Von Trier has put on film, a pair of erections bopping in and out of frame as our heroine decides to bail on her decision.
The material with Jamie Bell is more difficult to take. We get a sequence of accidental genital mutilation that’s very tough to look at and his character is so cold and distant that we never understand his impetus — outside of money — for doing what he does.
Then Jerome reappears, and you can tell that Von Trier has planned this all along. As the man who took Joe’s virginity (and by default, innocent), he will become the man who takes her soul as well. On the other hand, it’s clear that Seligman is also partially responsible for her eventual downfall. By digging beneath the surface, by trying to make sense of what her actions indicate, he strips Joe of her last attempt at true redemption. One gets the impression that, because of her permissive father and failed early home life, this woman needs someone to “straighten her out” circa Jamie Bell’s character (albeit, not so violently or graphically). Without any discipline — not necessary for sexual release — Joe appears destined to die as she lived – constantly seeking answers to something she can’t quite understand or control. Her self-condemnation, meant to find meaning in her actions, only ends up spurring those around her to further cloud the issue.
Beyond his outbursts, his public proclivities and moments of misguided joking, Lars Von Trier remains a true auteur. He has a particular vision and has spend the last few decades deciphering and redefining it. He’s never gone commercial or sold out. Instead, he rankles the mainstream by making the movies he wants, the way he wants. Even with all its XXX gimmickry, Nymph()maniac remains grounded in character. From someone like Von Trier, we’d expect nothing less, and in the end we get a lot more.